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Czechoslovakia: 1) Treatment of those who overstay their exit permission; 2) Political situation in Czechoslovakia; 3) Treatment of Protestants in Czechoslovakia; 4) Recent treatment of dissidents in Czechoslovakia; 5) Access to photocopies or reproduction equipment

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 October 1989
Citation / Document Symbol CSK2557
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Czechoslovakia: 1) Treatment of those who overstay their exit permission; 2) Political situation in Czechoslovakia; 3) Treatment of Protestants in Czechoslovakia; 4) Recent treatment of dissidents in Czechoslovakia; 5) Access to photocopies or reproduction equipment, 1 October 1989, CSK2557, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


1) An Amnesty International document, The Imprisonment of Persons Seeking to Leave a Country or to Return to Their Own Country, states the following:

Article 109 of the penal code of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR) provides: "Whoever leaves the territory of the Republic without permission shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of six months to five years, by reformatory measure or by forfeiture of property". Paragraph 2 states that "the same punishment shall be imposed on a Czechoslovak citizen who stays abroad without permission. Paragraph 3 of the same article imposes penalties of imprisonment of three to ten years for certain other acts including organizing the acts in paragraph 1 and 2 or taking across a frontier a group of persons who are leaving without permission. [Amnesty International, The Imprisonment of Persons Seeking to Leave a Country or to Return to Their Own Country (London: Amnesty International, 1986), p. 7.]

Official Czechoslovak government statistics indicate that about 450 people are imprisoned annually for offenses under Article 109. [, Amnesty International Report 1987 (London: Amnesty International, 1988), p. 197.] Details of most cases tried under this article are not available. [Ibid.] Some of them do, however, come to the attention of Amnesty International. In one instance, a man was imprisoned following his attempt to swim the Danube from Czechoslovakia to Hungary. Charged under Article 109, he received a sentence of two years and three months. [Op. cit., Amnesty International 1986), p. 8] Another man was sentenced, in August 1979, to one year in jail for a similar offence. [Amnesty International, Amnesty International Briefing: Czechoslovakia (London: Amnesty International, 1981), p. 9.] Perhaps the extent to which the Article is applied is best illustrated by the case of Diamkos Zigouris. Charged and sentenced in absentia after he left the CSSR in 1974 to take up residence in the Federal Republic of Germany, Zigouris was arrested in 1984 while travelling in Czechoslovakia on a Greek passport with a valid Czech entry visa. He was required to serve the sentence originally imposed upon him in 1976 for violating Article 109. [Op. cit., Amnesty International (1986), p. 8.]

An amnesty declared in May 1985 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II specifically exempted the criminal offence of illegal departure. [Ibid.] Conversely, a general amnesty was announced 27 October 1988 for persons convicted of leaving the country without permission. [U.S Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989), p. 1027.] However, the Department of External Affairs warns that this amnesty was not a "blanket" amnesty; the conditions were very limited.

External Affairs remains very sceptical about the harmonization of Czech law and practice on this account. In essence, the usual punishments are being meted out to those who violate the penal code articles on illegal exit. A telex from the Canadian embassy in Prague states that the penalties in the past have been mixed, but have included heavy fines and/or imprisonment. Returnees as well as their relatives have reportedly also suffered the loss of employment and the refusal of admission to post-secondary education. External Affairs comments that the Czechoslovakian authorities view overstaying as a criminal act. The Department further comments to the effect that Czechoslovakia does not encourage its former citizens who are residents abroad to return, unlike other socialist countries. The Department of External Affairs further cautions that a Czechoslovakian citizen who has overstayed exit permission should not approach the Czech embassy in Canada to "regularize" exit permission. The information provided to the IRBDC by the Department of External Affairs can not be corroborated in published sources at the present time.

No further information is available regarding the details of recent trials and sentences involving Article 109. For further information on the subject of freedom of travel to and from Czechoslovakia, please see the attached excerpt from the Helsinki Watch document entitled Human Rights in Czechoslovakia 1988 (pp. 41-49 attached).

2) For information on the general situation in Czechoslovakia, please see the article attached under the cover sheet marked "question 2"

3) Since 1969, the activities of churches and religious communities in Czechoslovakia have been increasingly restricted, according to Amnesty International. [Amnesty International, Intolerance and Discrimination on Grounds of Religion or Belief, (London, 1984), p. 4.] All churches must be registered officially in order to function and all clergy are licensed and paid by the state. [Country Reports for 1988, p. 1024.] The licenses can be withdrawn without explanation. Helsinki Watch reports that 13 ministers of the Czech Brethren Evangelical Churchthe most important after the Catholic church in Czechoslovakiahave had their licenses revoked. [International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights in Czechoslovakia, (Washington: U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee, 1989), p. 38.]

The organization of religious ceremonies in private homes is banned. [Country Reports for 1988, p. 1021.] Two articles of the Czech penal code in particular relate to the view of the State with respect to religious practice. Article 178 covers "obstruction of the State supervision of religion" and carries a sentence of up to two years. [Amnesty International (1981), p. 8.] It states that "The clergy can only carry out their ministry with the prior approval of the state." [Janice A. Broun, "Religion in Czechoslovakia, Twenty Years After", Freedom at Issue, September-October 1988, p. 16.] Anyone engaged in pastoral activities without state approval is considered guilty of an infraction under Article 178 of the penal code and in practice any parish councils, organizations and outreach of any kind are banned. [Ibid.] In essence, any active Protestant congregation is regarded by the authorities as subversive. [Ibid.] Article l0l covers "misuse of religious function", and carries a prison sentence of six months to three years. [Amnesty International (1981), p. 8.] Both Articles 101 and 178 have been used to convict clergy for carrying out their duties as priests. [Ibid.]

Christians are further hampered in the practice of their religion due to restrictions on religious literature. Printing is severely restricted and Bibles are in short supply. Legally published religious materials are furthermore subject to strict censorship. [Country Reports for 1988, p. 1022.] These and other religious tracts are therefore smuggled into Czechoslovakia or printed using samizdat methods. [Ibid.,p. 1025.] All unofficial attempts to increase the supply of religious materials are illegal. [Country Reports for 1988, p. 1025.] A penal code article dealing with profiteering has been used to punish those distributing religious material. [Amnesty International (1981), p. 8.] The state has implied that such material has been sold for personal gain. [Ibid.]

In the area of education, religious instruction in the home is banned, but it is provided to Protestant children at their Church through an arrangement between the Church and the government. [Country Reports for 1988, p. 1024.] Such requests induce warnings on behalf of school authorities that participation in religious classes could be damaging to a child's education and career prospects. [Ibid.] The children of practising Christians are frequently refused admission to institutions of higher education. [Amnesty International (1981, p. 15.] Once admitted to religious instruction, the children face pressure from teachers who themselves are under pressure to reduce the number of children receiving religious instruction. [Freedom at Issue, p. 17.]

Since Scientific Atheism is the official religion, those practising Christians who have an official position can face disadvantages. This situation is common to all Eastern European states and is based on Lenin's statement that "under no circumstances can we consider religion to be a private matter with regard to our own party", and his demand that the revolutionary elite, the Communist Party, must work to instill an atheist and scientific world-view among the working class. [Gerhard Simon, "The Catholic Church and the Communist State", in Bohdam Bociurkiw and John Strond, eds., Religion and Atheism in the USSR and Eastern Europe (London: Macmillan Press, 1975), p. 193.] As the previous paragraph illustrates, it is difficult for a Christian to remain a teacher. [Ibid.] Also, the US Department of State Country Report for Czechoslovakia mentions that policemen, Communist Party officials, and members of certain other professions encounter problems in their careers if they are seen in church. [Ibid.; see also the testimony of Olga S. Hruby, Religious Persecution Behind the Iron Curtain: Hearing, 99th Congress, 1st Session, 1985 (Washington: Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 1986), p. 121.] For further information, please consult the documentation attached under the cover sheet marked "question 3".

4) For information on the current treatment of political dissidents in Czechoslovakia, please consult the documentation attached under the cover sheet marked "question 4".

5) According to the Article 19 group, a human-rights organization dedicated to monitoring freedom of expression, the private ownership of copying machines is illegal and samizdat literature is produced mostly on typewriters. [ Article 19 group, Information Freedom and Censorship, ( Essex: Longman Group UK Limited, 1988), p. 176.] This is corroborated by the U.S. Department of State, which claims that the Interior Ministry controls printing and photocopying equipment which cannot be obtained legally by ordinary citizens. [Country Reports for 1988, p. 1022.]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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